Cougar on the move

It’s a noisy construction season at the zoo, which is building a new indoor amphitheater (the current one is expected to hold penguins a year from now). The cougar exhibit lies well within earshot, and our brother-sister pumas are reacting differently. She’s lounging on the rock shelf atop the exhibit, where both of them usually hang out. He’s pacing the perimeter, obviously more vigilant than usual.

The zoo acquired these cougars (or mountain lions or pumas, if you prefer) from the DNR as orphans whose mother, believed to be an ill-advised “pet” puma, was shot by the owner of a threatened dog. They represent the largest species of cat in the U.S. — up to 225 pounds for males, 130 for females. Their paws, as disproportionately big as a puppy’s (note the female’s big feet in her close-up), help wild cougars bring down deer and other large animals. While endangered like all big cats, they reside near the top of their food chain, outranked only by wolves. A young boy watching these two, alongside his parents and me, seemed fully aware of this fact. When his dad theorized that the pacing male was “looking for some vittles,” the son replied, “I think WE’RE the vittles, Daddy!”

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